Over twenty undergraduate teams came together in northwest Wales on a sunny weekend in June to compete in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Challenge.
Organised by The Institution of Mechanical Engineers and hosted by QinetiQ, the challenge encourages undergraduates from all over the world to design and build UAS (or drones) with specific mission objectives.
This year’s event was held at Snowdonia Aerospace Centre, operated by QinetiQ in partnership with Snowdonia Aerospace LLP. The site is an active testing and training centre for all types of unmanned aerial systems, from small privately-owned quadcopters to large military aircraft. This unique space and purpose-built facilities offer a diverse set of testing conditions and access to the 7,100 square kilometre section of segregated airspace over Cardigan Bay, where systems can fly in safety away from commercial and military aircraft.
Phil Briggs, Lead Project Engineer, QinetiQ, said: “Snowdonia Aerospace Centre is dedicated to testing real unmanned aircraft, making the experience as true-to-life as possible. The challenge is a test of the teams’ ability to find real-world solutions to real-world problems, while learning practical aerospace engineering skills alongside academia and industry.”
University of Sheffield MSc Aerospace Materials Engineering undergraduate Jack Bryan summed up his team’s feelings: “As a group, we share a passion for aviation and next-generation technology, so unmanned systems and particularly drones came naturally. We are all hobbyists who build and fly our own systems independently, so our team 'Project Hex' was an excellent way to come together and collaborate on a large scale system.
“The challenge has been the perfect opportunity for our society to showcase not only our project, but also our collective ability to innovate and deliver to meet deadlines under real-world industry conditions. The experience of discussing UAS solutions with peers from other universities and industry sponsors will not soon be forgotten and our team is looking forward to competing in the future.”
Christopher Grylls, undergraduate from the University of Bath said: “With our flying wing concept, we attempted to push the boundaries of innovation at the competition, being a unique design among our competitors.
“It has been interesting interacting with other teams and comparing how we approached the design problems. There has been a great spirit of collaboration and camaraderie between teams, which we are very grateful to be part of.”
Nicholas Pickett from the Sheffield Hallam University team said: “Having a team of only two aerospace engineering students has been the greatest challenge for us and we started from scratch, so there were no previous models or designs to work from.
“But it’s been very enjoyable meeting the other competitors, in particular the international teams. Even though we have worked very hard on this project, with late nights and early mornings to deliver a functioning UAS has been great.”
MEng Aerospace Engineering undergraduate Conor Taylor from Queen's University Belfast said: “The processes and reviews provided a great insight into the industry and how aircraft are evaluated to ensure safety and efficiency.
“Flight testing for our UAS ran right up to the evening before we left for the competition – and it crashed – but our determination and passion drove us through until we got the aircraft working again; including repairs during our trip on the water from Dublin to Holyhead.
“All the hard work over the past few months paid off when we saw the aircraft flying.”
Design – Bath University
Innovation – Bath University
Most Viable Business Proposition – University of Dundee
Safety and Airworthiness – Huddersfield University
Autonomous/Automatic Operations – Loughborough University
Manufacturing – Istanbul Technical University
Navigation Authority – Southampton (Valkyrie)
Environmentally friendly – Queens University Belfast
Most Promise – University of the West of England
Endurance – Loughborough University
Payload Delivery – Southampton (Olympus)